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Thor’s Blu-ray/DVD Reviews: Annihilation

Thor Diakow | posted Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

Annihilation

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SYNOPSIS: Biologist and former soldier Lena (Academy Award® winner* Natalie Portman) is shocked when her missing husband (Oscar Isaac) comes home near death from a top-secret mission into The Shimmer, a mysterious quarantine zone no one has ever returned from. Now, Lena and her elite team must enter a beautiful, deadly world of mutated landscapes and creatures, to discover how to stop the growing phenomenon that threatens all life on Earth.  The film also stars Jennifer Jason Leigh,
Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Tuva Novotny.

Despite the underwhelming theatrical box office numbers, Annihilation represents one of the strongest and smartest science-fiction movies in the last several years. Adapting Jeff VanderMeer’s mind-bending novel was always going to be a difficult feat but Garland and co. pull it off in style. A strong ensemble cast, haunting visuals, and thematically deep writing help make this beautiful horror thriller a mesmerizing watch that remains both brilliant and beguiling. Kudos to Paramount for taking another gamble on a tricky property (especially after last year’s severely underrated Mother!) and here’s hoping major studios will continue to make risky ventures into intelligent filmmaking.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Blu-ray
-Part 1 – SOUTHERN REACH
-Refractions – See how director Alex Garland created the tone, textures and color palettes for the various film environments on set.
-For Those That Follow – Listen to the cast’s perspective on their roles and learn why they found the story so intriguing.
-Part 2 – AREA X
-Shimmer – See how filmmakers transformed real set locations to create the world of Annihilation.
-Vanished into Havoc – Check out all the action as cast and crew walk you through the mind-blowing stunts and special effects.
-Part 3 – TO THE LIGHTHOUSE
-Unfathomable Mind – Learn why the visual effects are integral to achieving director Alex Garland’s overall vision for Annihilation.
-The Last Phase – Listen to the cast and crew share their fondest memories from filming Annihilation.

 

Thor’s Blu-ray/DVD Reviews: May 22

Thor Diakow | posted Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018

Hit the movie titles for trailer links.

May 22, 2018: Black Panther, Red Sparrow, Game Night, The 15:17 to Paris, A Fantastic Woman.

Black Panther

BLACK PANTHER

SYNOPSIS: Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther,” the highly celebrated story of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), a young African prince who takes on the mantle of King and Super Hero, has thrilled and inspired generations of moviegoers around the globe.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Never-before-seen extras feature commentary from director Ryan Coogler; deleted scenes; outtakes; and several making-of featurettes, which detail the Black Panther’s evolution, the remarkable women of Wakanda, the history of T’Challa’s proud nation, and the cosmic origin and technological applications of vibranium.

Black Panther was a box office smash and it’s easy to see why; the film represents one of the strongest in the MCU. Loaded with dazzling visuals, powerful themes, solid action, fine acting (from a tremendous ensemble cast), and a well-crafted villain, this one raises the bar for what spectacular and thought-provoking comic book movies can achieve. In short, Black Panther truly works because it’s an intimate family story wrapped in one big superhero epic.

Red Sparrow

RED SPARROW

SYNOPSIS: In this international spy thriller, Academy Award® Winner Jennifer Lawrence is Dominika, a former ballerina forced to enter Sparrow School, a secret government program that thrusts her into a treacherous espionage game between Russia and the CIA. She emerges trained as a lethal agent, but is trapped in a world she desperately wants to escape. Red Sparrow “twists and turns until the shocking conclusion” (Andrew Freund, Dish Nation, FOX-TV) – you will not see coming.

SPECIAL FEATURES: 4K Ultra HD™ & Blu-ray™
•A New Cold War: Origination and Adaptation
•Agents Provocateurs: The Ensemble Cast
•Tradecraft: Visual Authenticity
•Heart of the Tempest: On Location
•Welcome to Sparrow School: Ballet and Stunts
•A Puzzle of Need: Post-Production
•Director Commentary by Francis Lawrence
•10 Deleted Scenes (With Optional Commentary by Francis Lawrence)
•Movies Anywhere Digital Code
DVD
•Director Commentary by Francis Lawrence
•Deleted Scenes (With Optional Commentary by Francis Lawrence)

Despite some narrative flaws and a rather bloated runtime, this spy thriller actually boasts a powerful, empowering performance from Jennifer Lawrence and some stunning visuals. Red Sparrow feels like a throwback with some very current themes and, for the most part, offers an intriguing addition to the genre. It stumbles in sections, and some of the graphic violence and sexual themes may not be for everyone, but Red Sparrow ultimately proves worthwhile as a vehicle for lead star Lawrence and should reward the viewer’s patience.

Game Night

GAME NIGHT

SYNOPSIS: Bateman and McAdams star as Max and Annie, whose weekly couples game night gets kicked up a notch when Max’s charismatic brother, Brooks, arranges a murder mystery party, complete with fake thugs and faux federal agents. So, when Brooks gets kidnapped, it’s all part of the game…right? But as the six uber-competitive gamers set out to solve the case and win, they begin to discover that neither this “game”—nor Brooks—are what they seem to be. Over the course of one chaotic night, the friends find themselves increasingly in over their heads as each twist leads to another unexpected turn. With no rules, no points, and no idea who all the players are, this could turn out to be the most fun they’ve ever had…or, it’s game over.

SPECIAL FEATURES:
•Gag Reel
•An Unforgettable Evening: Making Game Night
“Game Night” DVD contains:
•An Unforgettable Evening: Making Game Night

This delightful comedy makes commendable use of a great cast, led adorably by Bateman and McAdams. Game Night deftly navigates the tricky world of dark comedies with some surprising and hilarious results. Plenty of sharp writing and a seemingly endless pool of talent in the acting department make this one a winner!

The 15:17 to Paris

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SYNOPSIS: In the early evening of August 21, 2015, the world watched in stunned silence as the media reported a thwarted terrorist attack on Thalys train #9364 bound for Paris—an attempt prevented by three courageous young Americans traveling through Europe. The film follows the course of the friends’ lives, from the struggles of childhood through finding their footing in life, to the series of unlikely events leading up to the attack. Throughout the harrowing ordeal, their friendship never wavers, making it their greatest weapon and allowing them to save the lives of the more than 500 passengers on board.

SPECIAL FEATURES:
“The 15:17 to Paris” Blu-ray Combo Pack contains the following special features:
•Making Every Second Count
-Join Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler – the three Americans who stopped the attack – as they take us moment-by-moment through the real-life drama, just as they lived it.
•Portrait of Courage
-Join Oscar® winner Eastwood and his creative team as they reveal the aspects of the story that moved them and why they took the bold step of casting the three Americans to play themselves in the film.
“The 15:17 to Paris” Standard Definition DVD contains the following special feature:
•Portrait of Courage

While there can be no denying filmmaker Clint Eastwood’s earnest efforts here, The 15:17 to Paris doesn’t quite work despite the harrowing true story it’s based on. The decision to cast the real life heroes is an admittedly authentic approach but the acting is noticeably clunky. Much of the film is a slow set-up but Eastwood does manage one masterful sequence with the train attack, which is genuinely riveting and full of tension.

A Fantastic Woman

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SYNOPSIS: Marina is a young transgender waitress and aspiring singer. A story of Marina and Orlando, an older man, who are in love and planning for the future. After Orlando suddenly falls ill and dies, Marina is forced to confront his family and society, and to fight again to show them who she is: complex, strong, forthright, fantastic. A FANTASTIC WOMAN was directed by Sebastián Lelio from a screenplay by Sebastián Lelio and Gonzalo Maza. The film was produced by Juan de Dios Larraín and Pablo Larraín, with Jeff Skoll, Jonathan King, Rocío Jadue, Mariane Hartard and Ben von Dobeneck serving as executive producers.

SPECIAL FEATURES:
•“The Making of A Fantastic Woman” Featurette
•Commentary with director Sebastián Lelio

This is a remarkable and truly powerful film (from Chile) that is gorgeously crafted. A Fantastic Woman is also anchored by a tremendous performance from Daniela Vega. This beautiful, sumptuous, and heartbreaking drama was one of the finest of last year and also won ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ at the 90th Academy Awards.

Thor’s Blu-ray/DVD Reviews: May 1

Thor Diakow | posted Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

Hit the movie titles for trailer links.

May 1, 2018: 12 Strong, Mary and the Witch’s Flower, Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell.

12 Strong

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SYNOPSIS: “12 Strong” is set in the harrowing days following 9/11 when an elite U.S. Special Forces unit led by their Captain, Mitch Nelson (Hemsworth), is chosen to be the first U.S. soldiers sent into Afghanistan for an extremely dangerous mission in response to the attacks. Leaving their families behind, the team is dropped into the remote, rugged landscape of northern Afghanistan, where they must convince General Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban) to join forces with them to fight their common adversary: the Taliban and their Al Qaeda allies. In addition to overcoming mutual distrust and a vast cultural divide, the Americans—accustomed to state-of-the-art warfare—must adopt the rudimentary tactics of the Afghan horse soldiers.  Despite forming an uneasy bond and growing respect, the new allies face overwhelming odds: vastly outnumbered and outgunned by a ruthless enemy that does not take prisoners.

Despite some borderline jingoistic tone issues 12 Strong provides a strong vehicle for showcasing Chris Hemsworth’s leading man status, outside the superhero world, and is also backed by a strong supporting cast. The film doesn’t break new ground when it comes to war dramas but does cover an intriguing (true) story and features some solid cinematography. In the end, 12 Strong‘s sometimes bombastic and simplistic approach is held together by its earnest intentions and memorable characters.

BLU-RAY/DVD ELEMENTS:
“12 Strong” Blu-ray Combo Pack contains the following special features:
-12 Strong: The Making of an Impossible Mission
Monumental Effort: Building America’s Response Monument

Mary and the Witch’s Flower

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SYNOPSIS: Mary is an ordinary young girl stuck in the country with her great-aunt Charlotte and seemingly no adventures or friends in sight. She follows a mysterious cat into the nearby forest, where she discovers an old broomstick and the strange fly-by-night flower, a rare plant that blossoms only once every seven years and only in that forest. Together the flower and the broomstick whisk Mary above the clouds, and far away to endor college – a school of magic run by headmistress madam Mumblechook and the brilliant Doctor Dee. But there are terrible things happening at the school, and when Mary tells a lie, she must risk her life to try to set things right. Based on Mary Stewart’s 1971 classic children’s book The Little Broomstick, Mary and The Witch’s Flower is an action-packed film full of jaw-dropping imaginative worlds, ingenious characters, and the and the stirring, heartfelt story of a young girl trying to find a place in the world. Featuring the voices of Ruby Barnhill and Academy Award-winners Kate Winslet and Jim Broadbent.

While this movie feels a tad derivative (you’ll be reminded of previous greats like Kiki’s Delivery Service and Spirited Away) when it comes to plot and imagery, it is admittedly gorgeously animated and delivers a rousing adventure that is sure to dazzle fans of the genre. It may not be a classic but Mary and the Witch’s Flower is a beautiful and simple story – with an endearing message – that faithfully honours the roots of Studio Ghibli, where director Hiromasa Yonebayashi got his start.

SPECIAL FEATURES:
-Includes a digital copy of Mary and The Witch’s Flower (Subject to expiration. Go to NBCUCodes.com for details.)
-NTV Special: Creating Mary and The Witch’s Flower
-A Special Conversation: Sekai No Owari, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, and Yoshiaki Nishimura
-Film Completion Press Conference
-Theatrical Promotional Movie
-Interview with the Filmmakers
-Trailers
-TV Spots

Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell

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SYNOPSIS: Burt Gummer (Gross) and his son Travis Welker (Kennedy) find themselves up to their ears in Graboids and Ass-Blasters when they head to Canada to investigate a series of deadly giant worm attacks. Arriving at a remote research facility in the arctic tundra, Burt begins to suspect that Graboids are secretly being weaponized, but before he can prove his theory, he is sidelined by Graboid venom. With just 48 hours to live, the only hope is to create an antidote from fresh venom — but to do that, someone will have to figure out how to milk a Graboid!

Let’s put it this way – if you love the original and recent similar B-movie creature feature offerings, this will be right up your alley. As a fan of the first cult hit (from 1990!) it’s actually amusing to see Michael Gross reprise his role again and he certainly seems to be having fun! It’s chock-full of dumb fun but does have a somewhat decent story, plenty of one-liners, and rather impressive creature designs.

BLU-RAY, DVD AND DIGITAL EXCLUSIVE BONUS FEATURES:
•The Making of Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell: Filmmakers, cast, and crew discuss why Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell is the most bone-blasting Tremors movie yet.
•Anatomy of a Scene: Watch as we break down the various elements that need to come together to film the first underwater Graboid attack.
•Inside Chang’s Market: Chang’s Market is an iconic location in Tremors history. See how it was recreated and updated for this installment of the franchise.
Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell will be available on Blu-rayTM, DVD and Digital.
•Blu-ray unleashes the power of your HDTV and is the best way to watch movies at home, featuring 6X the picture resolution of DVD, exclusive extras and theater-quality surround sound.
•Digital lets fans watch movies anywhere on their favorite devices. Users can instantly stream or download.